Most of this is histories, journals, personal poems, sermons, and diaries. Most of this literature is either utilitarian, very personal, or religious. Jonathan Edwards continues to be recognized from this period.
Enlightenment - (1750-1800)
This period was influenced by science and logic and is marked in US literature by political writings. Genres included political documents, speeches, and letters. Benjamin Franklin is typical of this period. There is a lack of emphasis and dependence on the Bible and more use of common sense (logic) and science. There was not a divorce from the Bible but an adding to or expanding of the truths found there.
Romanticism - (1800-1840)
This period was a literary and artistic movement of the nineteenth century that arose in reaction against eighteenth-century Neoclassicism and placed a premium on fancy, imagination, emotion, nature, individuality, and exotica. There's a movement here from personal and political documents to entertaining ones. Purely American topics were introduced such as frontier life. Romantic elements can be found in the works of American writers as diverse as Cooper, Poe, Thoreau, Emerson, Dickinson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Romanticism is particularly evident in the works of the New England Transcendentalists.
Transcendentalism - (1840-1855)
This period was an American literary and philosophical movement of the nineteenth century. These writers, who were based in New England, believed that intuition and the individual conscience "transcend" experience and thus are better guides to truth than are the senses and logical reason. This style respected the individual spirit and the natural world, believing that divinity was present everywhere, in nature and in each person. The Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, W.H. Channing, Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Peabody. The anti-Transcendentalist (Hawthorne and Melville) rebelled against the philosophy that man is basically good. A third group, the Fireside poets, wrote about more practical aspects of life such as dying and patriotism.
Realism - (1865-1915)
This period presented the details of actual life. It was also a literary movement that began during the nineteenth century and stressed the actual as opposed to the imagined or the fanciful. Writers tried to write truthfully and objectively about ordinary characters in ordinary situations. They reacted against Romanticism, rejecting heroic, adventurous, unusual, or unfamiliar subjects. The Realists, in turn, were followed by the Naturalists, who traced the effects of heredity and environment on people helpless to change their situations. American realism grew from the work of local-color writers such as Bret Harte and Sarah Orne Jewett and is evident in the writings of major figures such as Mark Twain and Henry James.
An outgrowth of Realism, this was a literary movement among novelists at the end of the nineteenth century and during the early decades of the twentieth century. The writers tended to view people as hapless victims of immutable natural laws. Early exponents of this period included Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser.
This period in literature is the tendency among certain authors to write about specific geographical areas. Writers like Willa Cather and William Faulkner, present the distinct culture of an area, including its speech, customs, beliefs, and history. Local-color writing may be considered a type of this period, like the southern writers of the 1920's, usually go beyond mere presentation of cultural idiosyncrasies and attempt, instead, a sophisticated sociological or anthropological treatment of the culture of a region.
This was a literary movement that flourished between 1912 and 1927. Led by Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, the poets rejected nineteenth-century poetic forms and language. Instead, they wrote short poems that used ordinary language and free verse to create sharp, exact, concentrated pictures.
An age of disillusionment and confusion—just look at what was happening in history in the US during these dates—this period brought us perhaps our best writers. The authors during this period raised all the great questions of life...but offered no answers. Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Frost are all examples.
This period was a time of African American artistic creativity centered in Harlem, in New York City. Writers include Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Arna Bontemps.
Contemporary - (1946-present)
great stuff, but not a clear philosophy.
An approach to literature and the other arts that stresses reason, balance, clarity, ideal beauty, and orderly form in imitation of the arts of ancient Greece and Rome. This term is often contrasted with Romanticism, which stresses imagination, emotion, and individualism. It also differs from Realism, which stresses the actual rather than the ideal.
The use in a literary work of characters and details unique to a particular geographic area. This term can be created by the use of dialect and by descriptions of customs, clothing, manners, attitudes, scenery, and landscape. These stories were especially popular after the Civil War, bringing readers the West of Bret harte, the Mississippi River of Mark Twain, and the New England of Sarah Orne Jewett.
Refers to the use of primitive medieval, wild, or mysterious elements in literature. These elements offended eighteenth-century classical writers but appealed to the Romantic writers who followed them. These type of novels feature places like mysterious and gloomy castles, where horrifying, supernatural events take place. Their influence on Edgar Allan Poe is evident in "The Fall of the House of Usher."
Refers to the use of bizarre, absurd, or fantastic elements in literature. The term is generally characterized by distortions or striking incongruities. Characters, like those in Flannery O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" are characters who have become ludicrous or bizarre through their obsession with an idea or value, or as a result of an emotional problem.
A movement, primarily in the theater, that responded to the seeming illogicality and purposelessness of human life in works marked by a lack of clear narrative, understandable psychological motives, or emotional catharsis. Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is one of the most celebrated works in the theater of this period.
Aestheticism (c. 1835-1910)
A late-19th-century movement that believed in art as an end in itself. Aesthetes such as Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater rejected the view that art had to posses a higher moral or political value and believed instead in "art for art's sake."
Angry Young Men (1950s-1980s)
A group of male British writers who created visceral plays and fiction at odds with the political establishment and a self-satisfied middle class. John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger (1957) is one of the seminal works of this movement.
An avant-garde movement that began in response to the devastation of World War I. Based in Paris and led by the poet Tristan Tzara, the Dadaists produced nihilistic and antilogical prose, poetry, and art, and rejected the traditions, rules, and ideals of prewar Europe.
Elizabethan era (c. 1558-1603):
A flourishing period in English literature, particularly drama, that coincided with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and included writers such as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, and Edmund Spenser.
Middle English (c. 1066-1500)
The transitional period between Anglo-Saxon and modern English. The cultural upheaval that followed the Norman Conquest of England, in 1066, saw a flowering of secular literature, including ballads, chivalric romances, allegorical poems, and a variety of religious plays. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is the most celebrated work of this period.
A breaking-off of speech, usually because of rising emotion or excitement. For example, "Touch me one more time, and I swear—"
A direct address to an absent or dead person, or to an object, quality, or idea. Walt Whitman's poem "O Captain, My Captain," written upon the death of Abraham Lincoln.
The repetition of similar vowel sounds in a sequence of nearby words. For example, Alfred, Lord Tennyson creates assonance with the "o" sound in this line from "The Lotos-Eaters": "All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone."
The clash of discordant or harsh sounds within a sentence or phrase. Cacophony is a familiar feature of tongue twisters but can also be used to poetic effect, as in the words "anfractuous rocks" in T. S. Eliot's "Sweeney Erect."
Two phrases in which the syntax is the same but the placement of words is reversed, as in these lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Pains of Sleep": "To be beloved is all I need, / And whom I love, I love indeed."
An expression such as "turn over a new leaf" that has been used so frequently it has lost its expressive power.
An informal expression or slang, especially in the context of formal writing, as in Philip Larkin's "Send No Money": "All the other lads there / Were itching to have a bash."
An adjective or phrase that describes a prominent feature of a person or thing. "Richard 'the Lionheart' " and " 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson" are both examples
The use of decorous language to express vulgar or unpleasant ideas, events, or actions. For example, "passed away" instead of "died"; "ethnic cleansing" instead of "genocide."
A form of understatement in which a statement is affirmed by negating its opposite: "He is not unfriendly."
Intentional understatement, as, for example, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio is mortally wounded and says it is only "a scratch." Meiosis is the opposite of hyperbole and often employs litotes to ironic effect.
The substitution of one term for another that generally is associated with it. For example, "suits" instead of "businessmen."
The use of words, such as "pop," "hiss," and "boing," that sound like the thing they refer to.
A statement that seems absurd or even contradictory on its face but often expresses a deeper truth. For example, a line in Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol": "And all men kill the thing they love."
The use of similar grammatical structures or word order in two sentences or phrases to suggest a comparison or contrast between them. In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 129": "Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream."
The attribution of human feeling or motivation to a nonhuman object, especially an object found in nature. For example, John Keats's "Ode to Melancholy" describes a "weeping" cloud.
A play on words that exploits the similarity in sound between two words with distinctly different meanings. For example, the title of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest is a pun on the word "earnest," which means "serious or sober," and the name "Ernest," which figures into a scheme that some of the play's main characters perpetrate.
A sudden and unexpected drop from the lofty to the trivial or excessively sentimental. Bathos sometimes is used intentionally, to create humor, but just as often is derided as miscalculation or poor judgment on a writer's part. An example from Alexander Pope: "Ye Gods! Annihilate but Space and Time / And make two lovers happy."
The use of sentimentality, gushing emotion, or sensational action or plot twists to provoke audience or reader response. Melodrama was popular in Victorian England, but critics now deride it as manipulative and hokey. Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, for example, is a particularly melodramatic work.
From the Greek word for "feeling," the quality in a work of literature that evokes high emotion, most commonly sorrow, pity, or compassion. Charles Dickens exploits pathos very effectively, especially when describing the deaths of his characters.
A recurring structure, contrast, or other device that develops or informs a work's major themes. A motif may relate to concrete objects, like Eastern vs. Western architecture in E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, or may be a recurrent idea, phrase, or emotion, like Lily Bart's constant desire to move up in the world in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.
An object, character, figure, or color that is used to represent an abstract idea or concept. For example, the two roads in Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" symbolize the choice between two paths in life. Unlike an emblem, a symbol may have different meanings in different contexts.
A fundamental and universal idea explored in a literary work. For example, a major theme of John Steinbeck's East of Eden is the perpetual contest between good and evil.
The central argument that an author makes in a work. Although the term is primarily associated with nonfiction, it can apply to fiction. For example, the thesis of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is that Chicago meatpacking plants subject poor immigrants to horrible and unjust working conditions, and that the government must do something to address the problem.
The general atmosphere created in a story, or the narrator's attitude toward the story or reader. For example, the tone of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground is outraged, defiant, and claustrophobic.
A movement in literary criticism, dating from the late 1920s, that stressed close textual analysis in the interpretation of works of literature.